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Sinking of the Titanic


Sinking of the TitanicNo other disaster at sea has ever resulted in such loss of human life as did the sinking of the Titanic on the night of April 15, 1912. The Titanic was on her first voyage, and this voyage had served to draw together many notables. She was advertised as the largest steamer in the world and as the safest; she was called "unsinkable." The ocean thus struck its blow at no mean victim, but at the ship supposedly the queen of all ships.

Through the might of the great tragedy, man was taught two lessons. One was against boastfulness. He has not yet conquered nature; his "unsinkable" masterpiece was torn apart like cardboard and plunged to the bottom. The other and more solemn teaching was against the speed mania, which seems more and more to have possessed mankind. His autos, his railroads, even his fragile flying-machines, have been keyed up for record speed. The Titanic was racing for a record when she perished.

Her loss has created almost a revolution in ocean traffic. "Let us go more slowly!" was the cry. Safety became the chief advertisement of the big ship lines; and speed, Speed the adored, shriveled into the dishonored god of a moment's madness.

The wreck of the steamship Titanic, of the White Star Line, the newest and biggest and presumably the safest ship in the world, is the greatest marine disaster known in the history of ocean traffic. She ran into an iceberg off the Banks of Newfoundland at 11.40 Sunday night, April 14th, and at 20 minutes past two sank in two miles of ocean depth. More than 1500 hundred lives were lost and a few more than 700 saved.

The Titanic was a marvel of size and luxury. Her length was 882.5 feet - far exceeding the height of the tallest buildings in the world - her breadth of beam was 92 feet, and her depth from topmost deck to keel was 94 feet. She was of 45,000 tons register and 66,000 tons displacement. Her structure was the last word in size, speed, and luxury at sea. Her interior was like that of some huge hotel, with wide stairways and heavy balustrades, with elevators running up and down the height of 9 decks out of her 12; with swimming-pools, Turkish baths, saloons, and music-rooms, and a little golf-course on the highest deck. Her master was Capt. E. J. Smith, a veteran of more than 30 years' able and faithful service in the company's ships, whose only mishap had occurred when the giant Olympic, under his command, collided with the British cruiser Hawke in the Solent last September. He was exonerated because the great suction exerted by the Olympic in a narrow channel inevitably drew the two vessels together.

There were over 2,200 people aboard the Titanic when she left Southampton on Wednesday for her maiden voyage - 325 first-cabin passengers, 285 second-cabin, 710 steerage, and a crew of 899. Among that ship's company were many men and women of prominence in the arts, the professions, and in business. Colonel John Jacob Astor and his bride, who was Miss Madeleine Force, were among them; also Major Archibald Butt, military aide to President Taft; Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad, with his family; William T. Stead, of the London Review of Reviews; Benjamin Guggenheim, of the celebrated mining family; G. D. Widener, of Philadelphia; F. D. Millet, the noted artist; Mr. and Mrs. Isidor Straus; J. Thayer, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad; J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line's board of directors; Henry B. Harris, theatrical manager; Colonel Washington Roebling, the engineer; Jacques Futrelle, the novelist; and Henry Sleeper Harper, a grandson of Joseph Wesley Harper, one of the founders of the house of Harper & Brothers.

As the Titanic was leaving her pier at Southampton there came a sound like the booming of artillery. The passengers thronging to the rail saw the steamship New York slowly drawing near. The movement of the Titanic's gigantic body had sucked the water away from the quay so violently that the seven stout hawsers mooring the New York to her pier snapped like rotten twine, and she bore down on the giant ship stern first and helpless. The Titanic reversed her engines, and tugs plucked the New York away barely in time to avoid a bad smash. If any old sailors regarded this accident as an evil omen, there is little reason to think the thing affected the spirits of the passengers on the great floating hotel. As the ship passed the time of day by wireless with her distant neighbors out of sight beyond the horizon of the ocean lanes, she reported good weather, machinery working smoothly, all going well.

For some reason the great fleet of icebergs which drifts south of Cape Race every summer moved down unusually early this year. The Carmania, three days in advance of the Titanic, ran into the ice-field on Thursday. The ship at reduced speed dodged about, avoiding enormous bergs along her course, while far away on every hand glinted the shining high white sides of many more of the menacing ice mountains. Passengers photographed the brilliant monsters. The steamship Niagara, many leagues astern, reported a slight collision, with no great harm done. That was enough. Captain Dow retraced his course to the northeast and, after an hour's steaming, laid a new course for Fire Island buoy. The presence of the great bergs and accompanying masses of field-ice so very early in the season was most unusual.

Into this desolate waste of sea came the Titanic on Sunday evening. She encountered fog, for the region is almost continuously swathed in the mists raised by the contact of the Arctic current with the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. Scattered far and wide in every direction were many icebergs, shrouded in gray, invisible to the eyes of the sharpest lookouts, lying in wait for their prey.

Not only were the bergs invisible to the keenest eyes, but the sudden drop in the temperature of the ocean which ordinarily is the warning of the nearness of a berg was now of no avail; for there were so many of the bergs and so widely scattered that the temperature of the sea was uniformly cold. Moreover, the submarine bell, which gives warning to navigators of the neighborhood of shoal water, does not signify the approach of icebergs. The newest ocean giant was in deadly peril, though probably few of her passengers guessed it, so reassuring are the huge bulk, the skilful construction, the watertight compartments, the able captain and crew, to the mind of the landsman. Dinner was long past, and many of the passengers doubtless turned to thoughts of supper after hours of talk or music or cards; for there were not many promenading the cold, foggy decks of the onrushing steamship.

The Titanic was about eight hundred miles to the southeastward of Halifax, three hundred and fifty miles southeast of treacherous Cape Race, when her great body dashed, glancing, against an enormous berg. The discipline and good order for which British captains and British sailors have long been noted prevailed in this crisis; for it is proven by the fact that the rescued were nearly all women and children.

From that rich, rushing, gay, floating world, with its saloons and baths and music-rooms and elevators, now suddenly shattered into darkness, only one utterance came. Phillips, the wireless operator, seized his key and telegraphed in every direction the call "S - O - S!" Gossiping among telegraphers hundreds of miles apart, messages of business import, all the scores of things that fill the ocean air with tremulous whisperings of etheric waves, began to give over their chattering. Again and again Phillips repeated the letters which spell disaster until the air for a thousand miles around was electrically silent. Then he sent his message:

"Have struck an iceberg; badly damaged; rush aid; steamship Titanic; 41.46 N., 50.14 W."

There was no other ship in sight. Far as the eye could reach no spot of light broke the gray darkness; yet other ships could hear and read the cry for help, and, wheeling in their courses, they drove full speed ahead for the wreck. The Baltic, 200 miles to the eastward, bound for Europe, turned back to the rescue; the Olympic, still farther away, hastened to the aid of her sister ship; the Cincinnati, Prince Adelbert, Amerika, the Prinz Friederich Wilhelm, and many others, abandoned all else to fly to help those in danger. Nearest of all was the Carpathia, bound from New York for Mediterranean ports, only 60 miles away. And as they all, with forced draft and every possible device for adding to speed, dashed through the misty night on their errand of mercy, Phillips, of the Titanic, kept wafting from his key the story of disaster. The thing he repeated oftenest was: "Badly damaged. Rush aid." Now and then he gave the ship's position in latitude and longitude as nearly as it could be estimated by her officers as she was carried southward by the current that runs swiftly in this northern sea, so that the rescuers could keep their prows accurately pointed toward the wreck. Soon he began to announce, "We are down by the head and sinking rapidly." About one o'clock in the morning the last words from Phillips rippled through the heavy air, "We are almost gone."

The crew were summoned to their stations; the lifeboats and liferafts were swiftly provisioned and furnished with water as well as could be done. Yet this provision could hardly have been very extensive, since it has long been an accepted axiom of the sea that the modern giant ships are indestructible, or at least unsinkable.

"Women and children first," the order long enforced among all decent men who use the sea, was the word passed from man to man as the boats were filled, the boatfalls rattled, and the frail little cockleshells were lowered into the calm sea. What farewells there were on those dark and reeking decks between husbands and wives and all other men and women of the same family one can hardly dare think about. Steadily the work of filling the boats and lowering away went on until the last frail craft had been dropped upon the ocean from the sides of the liner and the whole little fleet rose and fell on the sea beside the great black hulk. And when the last crowded boat had come down and there was no possibility of removing one more human being from the wreck, there were still more than 1500 hundred men on her decks. So far had belief in the invulnerability of the modern ship curtailed sane and proper provision for taking care of her people in time of calamity.

One can imagine with what frantic but impotent hope, as the sinking decks and menacing plash of waters within told of the imminent last plunge, those thousands of eyes strained at the misty wall of grayish black that enclosed them on every hand. Not one gleam of light in any quarter. The last horrible gurglings within the waterlogged shell of steel that a little while before had been the proudest ship of all the seas told unmistakably that the end was at hand. Down by the head went the giant Titanic at 20 minutes past 2 o'clock on Monday morning, April 15th. And she took 1,500 people with her.

Four hours passed before the shivering people in the small boats heard the siren whistle that announced the approach of a steamship from the south. There was a heavy fog and they could not see 100 fathoms off over the clashing and grinding ice that floated in fields on every side. Soon after 7 o'clock in the morning the ship came in sight and presently hove to among the fleet of boats and liferafts - the steamship Carpathia, out of New York on April 11th for Mediterranean ports. She began at once to take aboard the survivors, and in a few hours had every boat hoisted aboard. The Olympic and Baltic, learning by wireless that the rescues had all been effected, proceeded on their way.

The Virginian and the Parisian, which arrived at the scene of the disaster a few hours later, could find no sign of any living person afloat, though they cruised for a long time among the wreckage before standing away on their courses. The Carpathia at first was headed for Halifax, but upon learning by wireless that that harbor was ice-bound, Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the Board of Directors of the White Star Line, suggested that the ship head for New York. This was done. The Carpathia, with 900 passengers of her own and the 700 survivors, reached New York in safety.

The sad international tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic touched men's souls more deeply than any other disaster in many years. To the English-speaking in particular the horror of the occasion pressed close home; for here was the best of British ships bearing many of the most prominent of America's people. To these seasoned voyagers, crossing the Atlantic had become a mere pleasant trifle, seeming no more dangerous than an afternoon's shopping in town. Then suddenly there was thrust upon all of them that ancient, awful knowledge that "in the midst of life we are in death."

Both American passengers and English crew lived up to the best traditions of their race. There was no panic, no fighting for places in the boats on the doomed ship. On the contrary, people refused to believe in the imminence of danger. The idea that the ship was unsinkable had been so borne in on them that even when summoned upon deck and ordered to put on life-belts, many of them refused. In the first boats gotten away from the ship, there were not many people. Some refused to climb down through the deep blackness into the tiny craft. They thought the tumult all an empty scare that would soon pass.

When the steady, ominous settling of the huge ship's bulk broke through this shallow confidence, there was a solemn change. Grand and tender scenes there were on those sinking decks; of husbands and wives parting with the utterance of a hope, turned suddenly to terror, that they would soon meet again; of other wives who refused to leave their husbands and deliberately stayed to share their fate. Few of the more noted passengers were among those saved. Bruce Ismay, director of the steamship line, was one. The captain went down with his ship, as did most of his officers, though some of the latter saved themselves by clinging to the wreckage which rose after the vessel's plunge. While she was sinking her band still played "Nearer, my God, to thee," and other earnest hymns. Death did not find the old Saxon stock cringing from him with hysteria and frenzy. Sudden as was his coming, wholly unexpected as was his hideous visage, he was met with the calm courage which is the best tradition of the race.

And what have been the consequences of this overwhelming tragedy? An investigation was immediately begun in America by the United States Government. Another, slower, dignified and ponderous, was afterward undertaken by the British Government. Both of them in the end attributed the disaster to practically the same cause, the speed mania which has overtaken the nations, the heedlessness of man's overconfidence which takes risks so many times successfully that it grows to forget that risks exist.

The _Titanic's_ captain wanted to make a record on her maiden voyage. His directors wanted him to make a record. That would mean increased advertisement and increased traffic for their line. So in the face of danger, knowing there were icebergs all around him, the captain rushed his ship blindly ahead. The chance of his actually hitting an iceberg was scarce one in a hundred. So he took the chance. The probability that if he did strike an iceberg it could do irreparable damage to his stout ship, was scarce 1 in a 100. So he took that chance also. He gambled with Death, as a thousand speed-driven captains had gambled before. This time it was Death's turn to win.

A gamble even more reprehensible was that of the steamship companies, who had grown so sure their ships would not sink that they no longer provided sufficient means of escape from them. Why load a vessel down with useless life-boats, which only hung the year in and year out, blocking up space? Every foot of that space was valuable. It might make room for an extra passenger, or provide an extra amusement to draw traffic. What voyager ever counted life-boats, or worked out the awful calculation, so obvious now, that there was only rescue space provided for one-third of the number of souls aboard? Was not the ship "unsinkable" after all?

The Titanic is gone. Our sorrow for her is becoming but a memory. Our ships carry lifeboats sufficient now; they are compelled to by law. And our sea captains run on safer lines; that, too, the law has made compulsory. But it will be long before man's overweening self-confidence rises from the shock which has been given to his belief in his mechanical ability. Nature is not conquered yet. Ocean has still a strength beyond ours. Ships are not unsinkable; and Death will still take his toll of bold men's lives in the future as he has done in the past. We know that cowardice costs more than courage, but it is not so tragically costly as blind foolhardiness.